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Sail Melbourne International starts today

by Cora Zillich 16 Jan 16:52 PST 17-21 January 2020
Sail Melbourne International Regatta © Beau Outteridge

The 2020 edition of Melbourne's iconic Sail Melbourne International regatta will kick off today, Friday, 17 January, with racing of the five-day event to start on Port Phillip from 13:00 this afternoon (17 - 21 January 2020).

189 days out from the Tokyo Olympic Games, the world's best sailors from 25 countries and all-around Australia will battle it out on Port Phillip in another world-class sailing event of the 2020 Melbourne Summer of Sailing series.

Hosted by Royal Brighton Yacht Club and Sandringham Yacht Club, the event has attracted over 300 sailors who will compete across twelve classes with many using the event as preparation for Tokyo 2020 and as a warm-up event ahead of their upcoming class world championships and Olympic selections.

The event includes several sub-events, with the Laser Oceania Championships, the 2020 Australian Kite Foiling Championships, the 2020 Australian Para-Sailing Championships as well as the Australian Championships in the International 505 Class all part of Sail Melbourne International 2020 (SMI).

The Laser Standard and Laser Radial events have attracted the largest number of entries with SMI another exciting opportunity for the world's best International Laser class sailors to test the Port Phillip ahead of their class world championships at Sandringham Yacht Club.

With the Laser Standard (9-16 February) and Laser Radial (21-28 February) World Championships just four weeks away, the International Laser classes include the who is who in Olympic Laser. Amongst others, Rio Olympic champion in the Laser Radial Marit Bouwmeester from the Netherlands will be contesting the event as will Australian Sailing Team's Matt Wearn, who will be representing Australia at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

"We came here with four Dutch girls just before the Australian nationals and it's a nice warming up before the worlds and to learn about the venue. There's a lot of Australians and internationals here with pretty much everyone using it as a pre-worlds' warm up," Marit Bouwmeester said.

In the men's events the three top-ranked Laser sailors in the World, Tokyo 2020 Olympic team sailor Matt Wearn (AUS), Rio 2016 Olympic champion Tom Burton (AUS) and Olympic bronze medallist Sam Meech (NZL) will all be at Sail Melbourne's start line today, along with 2015 and 2016 World Champion Nick Thompson (GBR).

"These are my first major regattas after being selected (for Tokyo 2020) and they feel a little bit different," Matt Wearn said after winning the Australia Open Nationals a couple of weeks ago.

"The mentality now switches a lot towards July to what's going to happen with the Games, so all these events are about working on things we haven't quite gotten right and we want to get right come July. So we are here with a learning mindset, but obviously we still want to go out and win events," Wearn added.

The RS:X windsurfing class has also attracted a large number and high-calibre field from around the world, including two-time Olympian and Olympic champion in the women's RS:X event at the Rio 2016 Olympics Charline Picon from France as well as 2019 World Championship silver medallist and 2019 U21 World Champion Katy Spychakov from Israel.

Sorrento Sailing and Couta Boat Club will be hosting the 2020 RS:X World Championships from 23-29 February and Sail Melbourne is the perfect opportunity for the Olympic windsurfers to test the waters and make the most of Australian summer.

Several of the world's best Finn sailors are also making the most of the summer in Australia and have stayed on in Melbourne following their world championships in December to contest Sail Melbourne on their way to final Olympic selection and European quota spot battles over the next couple of months.

Switzerland's Nils Theuninck, who took out second place in the U23 category at the Finn Gold Cup as well as Norway's and Canada's Finn sailors are amongst the competitors as are Japan's top two Finn sailors Yuki Nishio and Alex Kokumai. Also, back at the start line in the Finn will be Australian Sailing Squad's Tokyo 2020 hopeful Jake Lilley, who finished fifth at the Finn Gold Cup and secured Australia the Oceania quota spot for the Olympic Games.

While most sailors have Tokyo 2020 on their mind, there are also those, who are aiming for Paris 2024, including Australia's up and coming kiters with the foil class only recently added to the Olympic program for Paris 2024.

The inclusion in the 2024 Olympic is an exciting step forward for kiteboarders and will showcase the fun and exciting sport to audiences right around the world. Kitefoilers can reach speeds between 60 and 70 km per hour and will light up Brighton Beach as part of Sail Melbourne when racing starts this afternoon at the 2020 Australian Kite Foiling Championships with a strong field from all around Australia contesting the event.

"The Australian Kitefoiling Nationals have all the Aussies out in force and we'll see some really hot, fast racing this week and I'm really excited to support our young Australians that are gearing up for Paris 2024 in this new exciting class," ex-national team Laser sailor Ryan Palk said, who is now coaching in the class.

"I competed at Sail Melbourne myself a few years ago in the Laser and I got into the kitefoil soon after that and have been involved with it over the last few years and to see events like Sail Melbourne and Australian Sailing get on board with kiting and kite foiling is really exciting." Palk added.

Day one of the event on Friday will test the proposed 2024 Olympic format. This will involve a pair of kitefoilers completing a course individually in a relay style format.

"At the moment our two young guns Scott Whitehead and Breianna Whitehead are the ones to watch. Bri got third at the worlds last year and is certainly gunning hard for Paris 2024 and Scotty is only 16 years old and also had a really good result there. It's a mixed team format at the Olympics and they are already thinking about progressing together but we still got a lot of other young Aussies trying to get up there," Palk added about who to watch.

Racing in the fleet for the Australian Kitefoiling Championships will start on Saturday and includes defending National champion Breianna Whitehead who finished fifth in the world rankings in 2019. Whitehead will be looking to defend her title against the likes of Natalie Clarke who finished 13th in the world rankings. Both Whitehead and Clarke represented Australia at the 2019 World Beach Games in Dohar.

In the men's division, Scott Whitehead will be setting his sights on his first National title after managing a second place in the previous championships. Whitehead will be racing against a strong fleet of riders from around Australia.

In the non-Olympic events and in the International 5O5 class, competition will be fierce and includes the multiple world champions Mike Holt and Rob Woelfel, who travelled across from the USA.

"With an exciting season of racing all around the world coming up, the Australian Championship is a great way of escaping from our northern winter and getting great racing against the highly competitive Australian fleet, " Mike Holt said.

Tasar, Liberty, 470 and Laser 4.7 classes complete the program as well as the para sailing classes of 2.4mR and Hansa 303.

Racing starts at Sail Melbourne International on Friday, 17 January and concludes Tuesday, 21 January.

For more information about Sail Melbourne International head to www.sailmelbourne.com.au.

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